A place of elephants, lions and bears

Lions and bears post

 

My grandparent’s gardens are gone
like so many poetic laments about lost paradises
nothing of their cultivated land
where father, son, mother and daughter lived
the flowering trees are a memory
recalled by a dying generation
no more sustenance or song
only the shadows of a once fertile island

Ancient olive groves gradually enveloped by slithering vines
slowly strangled hazelnut trees blossoming in the spring
the shadows of disappearing golden gardens
soon everything will be erased by the choking weeds
abandoned in the flow of time
to become forests once again

They left behind youth, families and home
to follow dreams, leaving a past filled with memories
compelled by the constraints of poverty, desperation and ambition
the land left untended by their hands
overwhelmed by loss the oasis is being erased by wilderness.
with no one left to stop the decay

Our ancestors gardens will be like so many other lost empires
we are destined to forget the seeds they planted
like so many graveyards left to themselves
Trincaria will become savage again
a land of hunters and hunted

Once more an ancient home for the beasts
a place of elephants, lions and bears
we will discover the cyclops skulls left behind
and wonder if the myths are true.

 

         – for my Sicilian grandparents Giuseppe and Carmela Bongiovanni

 

Savage sicily

 

Today I thought I’d try something different and share a little of my creative writing.

Poetry is my first love, it is where my ideas come from, yet I have never found a place for it, apart from submissions to obscure literary magazines throughout the years.

I’m currently working on the content for a new creative writing blog which will be the home not only for my interest in poetry but also music, books and conversations. I’ll be sure to let you know the details as soon as it’s all finished and launched.

This is one poem I thought I’d include in my first book, but I’ve had to cut out. As for those who have been following my blog for a while would know, I’m still working on my book, a travel memoir which I’m redrafting and will be self publishing as soon as I raise the funds.

I’ve been thinking and remembering my dearly loved Sicilian grandparents this week, as they both passed away in this period, one nine years ago, the other last year. I thought I’d share a poem which was inspired by them and other Italian immigrants. Sadly their’s is a generation which is slowly fading away, yet I feel their spirit and energy is still very much a part of me.

This poem is inspired by the historical fact that Sicily was once physically a part of North Africa and up until ancient Roman times the island was filled with natural forests inhabited by mini elephants, lions, bears and many other fascinating wild animals which have since disappeared.

The Sicily of my Grandparents was the opposite to this, filled with fertile gardens, abundant fruits and a vibrant agricultural tradition which today has been mostly abandoned. Sadly much of Sicily is destined to return to its ancient abandoned state.

There are many references to mythology, the Sicilian poetic school of the middle ages and other elements which reflect the innate sadness and ancient history of Sicily. The cyclop’s skull image refers to the archeological discovery of mini elephant skulls, which were mistaken as the remains of these mythological creatures.

Let me know if you enjoy this kind of creativity here on Sicily Inside & Out …

What to do in Sicily

I am constantly sitting down and planning out trips to do through Sicily. Often I don’t do everything on my list as I run out of money but I am generally happy if I do one of the trips every year as they are based on my experiences living here on the island.

Sicily is so rich, there are endless itineraries you can complete if you search on google but these are the things I’d recommend to my own friends and family.

The island can be terribly uncomfortable in July/August so I suggest do some of these in June as the weather is warm without being too humid or if the summer holds out as it usually does September is a perfect time to visit the island, with a lot less tourists too!

Aeolian Islands

These ancient islands off the north-eastern coast in the province of Messina make gorgeous day trips and are easily reached from Messina and Milazzo.

The ‘seven sisters’ as the islands are colloquially known are a series of wild and volcanic archipelagos surrounded by a deep turquoise colored sea. Alicudi, Filicudi, Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Stromboli and Vulcano were the home of Aeolus the mythological guardian of the winds who populated these islands with his family.

You can usually pair up a couple of the larger islands for a leisurely day (Lipari/Vulcano or Salina/Lipari) or be more adventurous and hike out to the more distant rocky islands (Filicudi/Alicudi). If you shop around there are mini cruises and sailing trips to the four main islands (Vulcano/Lipari/Panarea/Stromboli) and night time cruises to see the volcanic eruptions on Vulcano.

North coast of Sicily

I am always going on about how easy it is to experience Sicily by road and I urge people to hire a car from Palermo, Catania or Messina and plan out a trip.

I’d grab a hire car from Messina and head along the coast towards Palermo stopping at which major coastal city may tickle my fancy. Do you research and see if there are any food festivals (or sagras) on the way to stop and taste. I’d stop at Milazzo for some great seafood in the summer, browse around the ceramic stores at Santo Stefano di Camastra, see the Norman Cathedral at Cefalu’, spend the night at Palermo be sure to visit some museums, the Teatro Massimo which is known as the La Scala of the south and if you want to be impressed there is the Duomo, the Palazzo Normanno which is the seat of the regional government and both decorated by golden mosaics left behind by the golden age of Norman rule in 12th century Sicily. A day trip from Palermo is the Abbey of Monreale a magnificent arab/norman cathedral built by William the II in the 1100’s.

I encourage people to keep heading west along the coast and visit the cities of Marsala and Trapani filled with delightful beaches in the summer, fine food all year round, museums and towns to explore.

The heart of Sicily

The central provinces are seldom explored by tourists so I would pack a lunch and head out to the belly button of the island for a new experience.

I’d go straight to Piazza Armerina, outside of the town is the Villa Romana del Casale which is one of the most well-preserved archeological sites from the late Roman period and allows you to walk through an aristocratic Roman villa filled with elaborate mosaics which have recently been restored.

Enna, Caltanissetta and Agrigento are easily reached from Piazza Armerina and are filled with rich historical sights and festivals depending on what time of year you visit.

Noto Valley

For the lovers of the Baroque a fascinatingly rich part of the island is the Noto Valley (Val di Noto) which is a UNESCO world heritage site and includes many towns in the south-east of the island.

I’d meander my way down the coast from Catania and stop off in each of these towns who were all rebuilt in the Sicilian baroque style after a major earthquake in 1693.

Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli represent a considerable collective undertaking which created an amazing architectural and artistic achievement.

Further down the coastline from the Val di Noto in May and June every year there are performances of ancient Greek Classics in the Greek amphitheater at Syracuse which give world-class performances in this suggestive ancient location.

Around Etna

A fantastic way to experiencing the depth and breathe of the Mt Etna volcano is to take a trip around its base thanks to the Circumetenea railway (Ferrovia Circumetnea) which goes from Catania stopping at most small towns around Etna and ending up at the coastal town of Giarre (perfect for lunch and museums dedicated to ancient times).

You can also stop at Randazzo which is a suggestive small town that connects the provinces of Messina and Catania in fascinating dark lava historic center.

If you are staying at Taormina you can catch a bus out to the station and head either towards Catania or Giarre for the day.

Cultural Sicily

You can plan an entire trip to Sicily simply by going from museum to museum which can be an effort. I suggest choosing a couple of major museums and trying to fit in other cultural activities such as the theater.

I’d defiantly check out Teatro Massimo if you are staying at Palermo, their 2015 season is filled with orchestral concerts, ballets and opera. This elaborate historical theater can be visited during the day with regular tours.

The same can be said of the Teatro Massimo Bellini at Catania.

Rather than rushing through Taormina during a hot summer rush with the rest of the tourists why not take in a show during the Taormina Fest and spend the night in this beautiful town which will no doubt be unforgettable.

If you want to book tickets I suggest you try to get these done early to avoid disappointment.

The cultural element in Sicily is best explored towards the end of the summer even better in September.

Enjoy your summer or early autumn/fall in Sicily and be sure to let me know how it went.

wcm0046

5 easy steps to becoming a good tourist in Italy

COSI good tourist

 

1) Don’t complain too much

So it really doesn’t matter if you can’t track down your favorite candy bar or if they do things differently here. Italy is an old country so things are kinda slow, it will be dusty and a little dirty but that’s to be expected.

Nothing is going to be like home so go with it, embrace the difference, stop swiping your smartphone and savor life the Italian way. You will be stepping into another magical world embrace the change. Try to eat, live and drink like the locals, even if you don’t usually drink wine or eat pasta, forget all your diets, leave the beer behind for a bit and be like an Italian. Try each regional and local speciality from fresh pastas, cheeses, cold cuts, breads, drinks and desserts. Just live in the moment and stop being uptight, don’t program every moment just allow yourself to explore and discover Italy, walk around, observe and be open, this country is filled with surprises which will astound you.

2) Dress appropriately

If you don’t want to feel out of place or get stared at. Italians are impeccable dressers and so hot pants, wife beaters and skin tight jeans aren’t going to cut it. Dress neatly, do your hair and try to look smart. I know it will be hot in the summer too don’t strip off your clothes, it is not suitable. If you intend to visit important attractions and churches, bring a scarf to cover bare arms or legs, it is only respectful. Your dress will also identify you as a tourist and could make you a target for pick pockets, shifty souvenir vendors and horny Italian men who can be a little aggressive. What can I say? Italians are superficial, they can read a lot about a person by their dress, so make an effort and you will fit in better and feel a little more fashionable, it is worth the effort.

3) If you are coming to Sicily, don’t make jokes about the Mafia

 No country wants to be identified or recall the worst part of their recent history. Look beyond the stereotypes do not try to reinforce them. Sicily isn’t about organized crime it is about ancient history and art. La Sicilia is made up of nine diverse provinces each with its own distinct traditions and cuisine to explore: Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani. Explore all of Sicily, it’s the largest island in the Mediterranean and you won’t do it in a couple of days 😉

4) To avoid being ripped off by money exchange rates

Or without the pain of having to track down an American Express office for travelers cheques, try taking money out from an ATM, you will be charged only for using another banks ATM but it is handy. Talk to your bank about it. It is always a good idea to take some cash as some places don’t accept credit cards.

5) Don’t say ‘Ciao’ to everyone

You say ‘Buongiorno’ (in the morning) / ‘Buonasera’ (in the afternoon) and ‘Grazie’ all the time. Be polite rather then friendly, Italians will appreciate the effort. It would be nice if you try to learn a little Italian, just the basics even if you study a phrase book or download a couple of podcasts to listen to on the way to work a few weeks before you leave. It is amazing how friendly Italians can be when they see you are trying to experience their culture and country by attempting to speak in their language. I think Italians get a bad wrap for being arrogant to tourists but often they have seen so many tourists come through who simply don’t say ‘grazie’, try it and you will notice. Having a basic vocabulary will help you navigate Italy better and understand more of what is going on around you too.

wcm0046

North verses South in Italy: from stereotypes to rampant individualism

 

North Verses South Italy

 

Yes, there is a difference between Northern and Southern Italy; in fact, it took a major political and social movement to merge the different states of the Italian peninsula in the nineteenth century. The process began with the Congress of Vienna at the end of Napoleon’s reign in 1815 and continued with various revolutions and internal conflicts to finally proclaim Rome as the capital of the Kingdom on Italy in 1871.

The reason the ‘Risorgimento’ period took so long to put Italy together is simply because each Italian region is really so unique, even today there is a strong cultural individualism which makes it difficult to group Italians together. It may be a pithy example but just look how each region has its own different cuisine each town has its own type of pasta, wine, cheeses, festivals, traditions and even dialect.

Italian dialects are not simply variations in accents they are different languages, so its normal there is going to be some cultural conflicts there.

A personal example of mine are my own parents, my Dad was born on the Adriatic coastal town of Vasto in the Abruzzo region of central Italy and his dialect is heavy with Croatian and Greek influences. While my mother, born in Sicily and speaks a dialect peppered with diverse influences from Arabic, Turkish, Norman and German (Sicily boasts thirteen distinct foreign dominations in their history each of which has left its mark on the Sicilian language). So if my folks speak their dialects they won’t understand one another, even if standardised Florentine Italian is taught in the schools, dialects are strong in the homes and Italian is spoken with deep regional accents.

Italians are staunchly parochial, the phenomenon of Campanilismo is an important aspect of life in Italy it creates a sense of identity, pride and belonging to the place of your birth with a pinch of local rivalry which is stronger than any sense of national identity.

The geographical isolation between one town and the other thanks to the Italian Alps doesn’t exactly help with unifying the various subcultures and actually magnifies the Italians sense of distance from their compatriots. I am constantly bemused when Sicilians compare cities from different parts of the same province as if they are talking about two different countries.

Then we come to all the stereotypes like these I have overheard in conversations through my years living in Italy:

Northerners are cold and calculating.
Southerners are lazy and corrupt.
Northerners are efficient and money hungry.
Southerners are inefficient and poor.
In reality, these problems exist in both the North and South and such generalisations are nonsense.

Matteo Salvini the ultra-conservative and current leader of the Lega Nord political party is a creation of the Umberto Bossi separatist movement of the 1980’s/90’s which attempted to cut Italy into two pieces. According to the Lega the South has sponged off the North’s industry and would be better off without them. On the flip side Raffaele Lombardo’s independent Sicily movement was seeking the succession of Sicily from Italy after centuries of underdevelopment on the island. Neither has succeeded in their bids, Salvini recently trawling Sicily for votes in the next upcoming election and Lombardo is being dragged through the courts on corruption charges.

Italy is such a rich place which has been inhabited by human beings since Palaeolithic times, each generation layering itself upon the one before, creating endless complexities which link Italian together and create a rampant form of individualism associated with closely linked communities and families.

The North versus South debate is a result of this complex tapestry.

 

wcm0046

Leading an authentic life in Sicily

Authenticity Quality of being genuine to

My friends and family think I am totally insane to be living my life in Italy, they are waiting for me to come to my senses and move back to Australia, like I’ve been playing around for the past decade of my life.

The truth is it’s been more than chasing a dream, I’m not bathing myself under ‘the Tuscan sun’ or running a bed and breakfast in Puglia.

Brolo c:da castello

I live in small town Sicily which at times is trying for my patience, challenging for my sense of space and privacy and above all it comes with an entire spectrum of misunderstandings and culture shock with whoever is around me. So why do I do it to myself?

Because Italy talks to me, it whispers sweet nothings into my ear, makes me laugh as loud as I ever have, it allows me the time to write, smell the pasta sauce on the stove and taste life.

Italy has infuriated me as much as it has made me fall evermore in love with it.

Moving to Italy has changed me, it has made me let go of many unimportant things, life here is more authentic, a simple less cluttered life which speaks to me louder and clearer than anything else.

wcm0046

Flowers and lights for our ancestors

I morti in Sicilia

November is a sombre time in Sicily, traditionally it’s not all jack o lanterns and candy rather its about taking flowers to the cemetery and lighting artificial lights instead of candles in memory of the dead.

All souls and dearly held saints are prayed for in religious services in the Roman Catholic church and the autumn signals the beginning of winter.

Sicilian’s make the rounds of the graveyards with chrysanthemums cradled in their arms, paying floral homage to their ancestors and placing light globes around the edges of tombs.

Trinacria’s necropolises are decorated by the living as the photo’s of the dead demand it, the images on each tomb and mausoleum plea to be acknowledged. Each photo has surreptitiously robbed a piece of their soul imprisoning their glances in an eerie reflection of life.

As we honor our deceased in among flowers dampened by the rain and hazardous electrical wiring, we secretly utter a prayer for those we love and hope not to be accidentally electrocuted.

The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—
“Guess now who holds thee!”—“Death,” I said, But, there,
The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”

                                                                                 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Sonnets from the Portuguese.

wcm0046

Fall in Sicily

Autumn in Sicily

The beginning of Autumn in Sicily can be abrupt. The gradual changes from one season to the next are now a thing of the past, there are no more slightly shortening days or time for the leaves to go from greens, yellows, warm rusty reds or browns, now the fall begins with heavy rains and cool nights, whenever the gods decide.

One day you are sunbathing on the beach and the next you are pulling on your cardigan and sheltering under an umbrella. The first rains are capricious, sometimes drizzling, then pelting, blurring the mountains and threatening with ash coloured clouds and distant thunder drones, initially succumbing to the afternoon sun and the Scirocco.

The heavy breath of the Scirocco is a lethargic exhale held in cupped hands, a stifling African wind which saps energy, tickling the skin without any relief or pleasure.

This corrupted zephyr, fed by ancient Aeolus the keeper of the winds, ravages the land and utters its curse without any mercy. In the summer it whips up the thermometer, in September it teases as it ushers in the rains, in the winter it tries to deceive people into shedding their skins too soon. First, there is the flotsam and jetsam of the winds and then the storm begins.

 

Autumn

October in Sicily means many things to the Sicilian’s table from fruits like fichi d’india, hazelnuts, mushrooms and grapes. Late ripening in this years season also means a tardy gathering of tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), capsicums, chilli peppers and other summer fairs.

The insanity of August is easily washed away as Sicily gets back into its daily routine, children go back to school, freshly bronzed public servants are well and truly lazing in their offices and the everyday grind begins.

A new season is always a new beginning, it changes the sensations and assures as we are moving forward despite our want to stand still.

Autumn is like sipping a fine Nero d’Avola, smooth and deeply satisfying with a warm and fruity aftertaste that makes you wish more.

wcm0046

A journey to the Volcano with Venero Armanno

 

sicily 5

 

Venero Armanno’s trio of Sicilian themed novels written by the son of Sicilian migrants is a powerful dedication to Sicily.
The volcano is a novel of emotion, passion and fire set in the shadowlands around Etna and tells us of the epic journey of Emilio Aquila. The book takes us back and forth from Sicily to Brisbane Australia through Emilio’s own precise and vivid memories.
Firehead is a wonderfully sensual, passionate story about Sicilian migrants to Australia and a young man’s obsession over the disappearance of his neighbour, the read headed Firehead of the title.
While The Black Mountain tells the story of a boy sold into slavery to work in the sulphur mines of 1940’s Caltanissetta, deep in the rugged almost savage centre of the island.
These Sicilian themed novels by Venero Armanno, are a homage to the Sicily of post world war two and a generation of migrants who dispersed themselves all around the world.
In the words of Armanno himself, each of these books are, in their own way, about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants and the search for the self.
I was lucky to speak to Venero Armanno about his work and creative process.

 

Venero Armanno2

 

How would you describe your writing style and novels to someone who has never read your work?

Trying to describe my work is one of the hardest things to answer—I’m glad some critics will do it for me.

It would be far easier if I worked in something easily identifiable, such as genre fiction: “I’m a crime writer, and my books investigate the dark psyche of people in the underbelly of Chicago.” I’ve often wished I could say something as straightforward as that.

In reality, my books are probably a blend of literary and commercial fiction; they tend to be page-turners while having a fair amount of depth (one hopes). People say the books are sensual and emotional. I’ve written a lot about the migrant experience, however, that’s far from my only main theme. Mostly I’m interested in ideas of what it is to be alive, what it is to love, what it is to hope for better things…

 

Do you have a certain method when you are working on a novel? Is it mostly research and then creativity? For example, how did something like the Volcano come about?

This varies from novel to novel, so there’s no one set answer, though my overall answer would be my method is to write without thinking too much… grasp an idea and run with it, wherever it leads. Over-thinking stifles just about everything. You can’t be over-thinking very much if you force yourself to write 1000 words a day or so. In the end, you just have to let it all flow out.

With The Volcano, I had a basic idea, but it started out as a screenplay, which grew into a three-part epic. When I really looked at that roughly 600 pages of screenplay, about twenty pages were good. So I started again from scratch. Mostly I researched as I wrote. – that is, when I came to places where I needed more information, I went and found it. That research led to other things that could go into the book… there were multiple drafting, believe me.

Do you mind being labelled as an Italo-Australian writer? What does it actually mean to you and for your writing to be classified as such?

I don’t mind and I don’t think it makes any difference one way or the other. I doubt my readership is primarily Italo-Australian, or even particularly ethnic. I think more was made of this in the first part of my career… Around the early 1990s, I remember some newspaper articles equating my writing to Paul Keating’s view of a much more multi-cultural Australia, but that was a long time ago.

You also work in the screenplay genre, how does this fit in with being a novelist, does it influence your style?

No, they feel like two completely different worlds, to be honest. “A screenplay is a blueprint for a work of art that doesn’t yet exist.” – one of my favourite quotes about the form. A book is in itself the work of art (or whatever).  I really dislike the spare type of fiction prose that seems to emulate the form of screenwriting; my writing is a little more lush and sensual. People say I write like a European/Italian/Latino – and that’s how I like it. With screenplays we’re always thinking more visually and externally; with fiction, what I love is the ability to play with, and live in the interior world. So I don’t much see the two types of genres intersecting… at least not for me.

elijah-o-donell-760367-unsplash

What advice would you give to an unpublished novelist?

“If you aren’t writing, you’re not serious. What would you say to a kid who wants to play guitar in a band and be a rock star, but never bothers to pick up a guitar and learn/play?”

Then, ask yourself why you want to do this. If it’s for money and fame, go do something else. If it’s because you genuinely love books and have been a reader all your life, then fantastic – try to be the best writer you can. That means to write a lot, every day, damn the consequences and try not to be a people-pleaser. Aim for the middle to long-term, not the short-term. Even if you solely concentrate on short stories, be aware that the road is long and that positive vibes are few and far between. Can you go several years without someone giving you some affirmation that what you’re doing is worthwhile? Can you deal with failure after failure? Because that’s what it will be like. So you have to do this for yourself, and for the sheer joy of writing. The rest is totally secondary, or irrelevant.

 

Black Mountain Venero Armanno

Give us a blurb about your most recent publication?

Okay, this is the official one:

‘Black Mountain is an eerie and compelling read … Like the best of fiction, it remains with you long after you have finished.’ Christos Tsiolkas

Beginning in the sulphur mines of Sicily over a century ago, Black Mountain takes you on a journey through time and back again.

When a boy sold into slavery finds the courage to escape his brutal life, he is saved by a mysterious stranger, who raises the boy as his own. Renamed Cesare Montenero after Sicily’s own ‘black mountain’, Mount Etna, the boy grows up to discover that his rescue was no accident, that his physical strength is unnatural, and that he has more in common with his saviour than he could have imagined. And when he meets the enigmatic Celeste, he suspects for the first time that he may not be alone.

Based on factual events and ranging through Italy, Paris and the rural fringes of coastal Australia, Black Mountain is a haunting exploration of what it means to be human.

 

What are you working on at this moment?

I’ve been redrafting a new book called CRYSTAL GIRL, and that work’s done for now (I think), so it’s off with publishers and agents. I’ve been working on something very different since then, a very large novel called WOLF HOUSE. Let’s just say it involves a girl with powers she doesn’t quite understand, a haunted house, Sicilian witches and, well, some very wolfish feelings… I am absolutely loving writing this book. In fact, right now it has gone off for a long run on its own; I feel like I’m just there for the ride.

 

How are you connected to Sicily? Do you visit Sicily often?

My family went back to live in Sicily for six months when I was at a very impressionable age (nine), so I’ve always felt very connected to the place. My parents, in Australia, lived a very Sicilian lifestyle too, if I can put it that way. So that increased the connection.  I don’t have a lot of families left there so I haven’t been back in a while, but I’m very keen to take my young family.

 

Tell us about your other ‘Sicilian’ themed books …

These would be The Lonely Hunter and its sequel Romeo of the Underworld, Firehead, and The Volcano.

Each of these, in their own way, is about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants, and the search for the self.

 

Black Mountain is your most recently published novel, tell us more about this, how did you discover this amazing setting and story?

I first came across the history of small boys forced to work in the Sicilian sulphur mines, in unthinkable conditions, during my research into The Volcano. It was such a powerful history that I felt I should use it for a book on its own, and not in some other work. I also wanted a little more time to read and talk to anyone who might have had first or second-hand experience with this slavery. I’m glad I waited quite a few years before attempting Black Mountain – I have to say, I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

samuel-ferrara-625169-unsplash

Do you have a favourite Sicilian author/work?

I like the old stuff. Just recently I finished rereading some wonderful books: Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini; Little Novels of Sicily by Giovanni Verga; The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia; Night’s Eyes by Gesualdo Bufalino. Of course, you can’t go past Il Gattopardo! I also love Cesare Pavese, even though he’s not Sicilian. And my wife gave me a new, first-time novelist’s book On Earth As It Is In Heaven, by Davide Ennia (he’s from Palermo). It looks great.

But right now I’ve started reading a lot of Japanese literature…

Are you a blog reader at all? I know you have one but I get the impression you aren’t a fan.

Yeah, it’s a funny thing. Writers like being locked away in a room, then they’re expected to be public in some way. I like my privacy and I don’t need people to know what I think on an hour by hour basis! Or day by day, month by month, year by year…

My publishers encouraged me to develop my own blog site and Facebook page, so finally, I did. I think in three years I have managed to write two and a half blogs – honestly, I couldn’t care less. My energy should go into novels anyway. I’ve since updated my blog site so it just gives a bit of information for any reader that might be curious about my work. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, or even distant… I’m just not the type who needs to express blog-style thoughts. I have full novels to do that, after all.

I don’t follow blogs by people whose work I enjoy, either. There’s more fun in mystery. I come from that generation where you didn’t have access to artists and writers, and so (maybe) their work spoke more acutely.

Antichi mistere

A million thanks to Venero Armanno for finding the time to answer my questions.

Armanno’s writing style is sensuous, lyric and heart-achingly beautiful to read. He has written numerous novels and is a respected and experienced academic.

Some of his other beautifully sensitive, sensual and evocative stories set in Australia with their heart well and truly in Sicily include My beautiful friend, Romeo of the Underworld and The lonely hunter.

His latest book Burning Down is a thrilling journey into the world of boxing and organised crime in Brisbane is also available through the Book Depository and has been nominated for the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards. Read more about this book on Armanno’s blog here

The Volcano  is available as an ebook on Amazon while The Black Mountain can be ordered from the Book Depository.

I reviewed Venero Armanno’s book the Volcano in detail for the Times of Sicily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fetish for the little black book

I’ve always been a scribbler, I must have filled up hundreds of notebooks with notes, drawings and random thoughts.

 

I love stationary stores and I’m always buying gorgeous writing paper, leather bound journals, diary’s of all shapes and sizes.

 

Over the past year though I’ve become obsessed by the little black notebook, particularly the Moleskine variety.

 

The little black book fits perfectly into a handbag or a coat pocket and can be whipped out whenever an idea or image strikes me.

 

I have three little black’s going right now. One is my Moleskine from last year which is pretty much finished, then I have a Charlie Brown Peanut’s themed diary which I am using for my new novella writing project and finally a simple bird cover for random daily notes. I’ve limited myself well as I usually have many books going at the same time.

I love blank pages, the feel of the high quality cream colored pages in between my fingers. The beautiful pages of Moleskines come alive with black felt tip pen scribbling on them, it makes me feel terribly writerly like Proust scrawling notes all over the place (I doubt he would have been limited to the small version like I am though!)

Above all I adore the anonymity of the little black book, nobody knows what you are doing, it could be a simple diary or sketch book, it’s up to me to transform it into what ever I want it to be.

 

I could be a secret agent or a biting satirist whatever my imagination beholds in a particular moment. Simply remarkable!

Talking in tongues

Missing my Nonno

Isn’t it amazing the surprises life has in stall for us? At times I’m a little overwhelmed by the strange new directions this journey has pulled me through some painful, others colourful, adventurous but all unexpected. I imagined myself at this stage working as a journalist in some t.v or radio station with a novel or two bubbling up in the background, yet I find myself living here in Sicily, Italy bringing up Matthias, doing it all in another language and feeling like someone has just hit me over the head and cancelled the past decade of my life from my memory.

The hardest loss has been that of my adorable Grandpa, who died two years ago now yet his loss is still palpable for many reasons. Firstly that I never got to say goodbye, we were planning to go back to Australia the year he died as I was expecting Matthias, but my mother in law got sick and we postponed, then he passed away and we didn’t end up going back at all. So I didn’t ever see my Nonno either alive nor at his funeral.

It’s going to be hard when we go back not to see him at the airport, or when I can’t hug him hello instead of goodbye like our final goodbye during my last flight out from Perth. It’s going to be difficult to see my Nonna (Grandmother) alone at my mother’s house as she is well into her eighties and has felt the loss of Nonno greatly.

I still feel him so strongly in my life. It hurts to think little Matthias will never know him, that I will never hear his voice calling me darlin’ again, that he won’t be grilling meat on the BBQ for Christmas, that he won’t be insisting that we eat and drink more than our own body weight. Simply that such a wonderful character is absent from our company when we desire him so much. What a huge hole to fill.

Yet, my dear Nonnino, you are still surprising me, as I stumbled on a picture of you at my last birthday at home in Perth, Western Australia. Do you remember? We went to Fremantle to eat at the Little Creatures Brewery. It was the hottest day of the year and we were all perspiring to death waiting for a free table, then we drank too much beer and went for ice cream after at Baskin and Robbin’s right there on the pier. I found a lovely casual candid photo that I took of you sitting next to your grandson Damian, son Fil and daughter in law Rosanna. You didn’t even see me take it, yet I am so glad I did because there you are my splendid, handsome Nonno. One look at you makes me remember every happiness in my life, for a moment you are still here, held close without realising.

     

 

Love from your darlin’

On the theme of Mt Etna

One really can’t talk about Sicily without mentioning the Mt Etna volcano, here are some short pieces I’ve written about this strange monster that dominates this island, following along on the theme of earthquakes from yesterday.

 

‘Etna is a real monster, a living breathing part of the Sicilian landscape. Its sixty by forty kilometre base is the heart of the island and its three thousand three hundred meters tall shadow has given birth to the fertile Sicilian land, rich in mythology. The volcano is different things to different people. For the ancient Greeks, it was the forge of Vulcan, the god of earth and fire. It was the home of the Cyclopes who terrorised the island by throwing pieces of earth into the sky, their appetites subdued by regular animal sacrifices. It is the resting place of the giant Escalades, upon whom the god Jupiter placed the mountain. Each eruption signifies the motion of the giant trapped by Etna’s weight. 

 

Etna has forged Sicily after hundreds of thousands of years of activity and it still is the centre of the island’s evolution. Sicily is still developing and geologically it is relatively young and so the volcano will continue to reshape the island’s destiny. Etna is a living breathing force of nature which holds the terrain firmly in its grip.

 

Like Naples’ Mount Vesuvius which, lies above and below the city in a perpetually active state, Etna has the potential to create great damage. Early in the seventeenth century, it went through a period of hibernation only to erupt violently towards the end of the century. This eruption in the late sixteen hundreds caused powerful earthquakes. New mouths of the volcano were opened throughout the island, some hundreds of kilometres away. The main lava flow during this eruption lasted many years, destroying most of Catania and eventually reaching the Ionian sea.’

       

                            (A snow capped volcano in the middle of summer)

I have had the privilege of seeing Etna in her highest fury, from afar and at night time yet it was enough to inspire the following description that is included in my travel book, ‘Descent into Sicily.’

 

‘The sun having set I can now see the splendour of Etna’s eruptive heat. The opening at the head of Etna is spewing out diabolical black ash, a second opening can be seen about halfway down and it too is vomiting out smoke which flows up to combine with the fumes of the main opening.

 

From the new mouth, lava is rocketing up into the sky. There is a red-hot halo of heat around Etna’s summit. It is a colour unlike any other I’ve seen. It is a piece of steel being melted in a furnace, translucent, like the surface of the sun. The magma is spurting forth like a fountain and although we are hundreds of kilometres from Etna we can see the lava spewing out of its mouth as if it were only meters away.

 

Watching television when we return home, I hear that fifteen new mouths have opened up overnight and the residents of the towns below are terrified by massive explosions as lava explodes into the air above them.

 

In the weeks after its eruption, the ash from Etna is taken by the wind across to Catania where it covers the city in a fine grey film. The scirocco, a desert wind from Africa, moves the ash further north to Calabria. The breeze changes direction covering everyone with a fine blanket of ash.’

 

Tremors

    

      (A slightly smoking Mt Etna taken from the Nebrodi Mountains last year)

Italy has always been a place susceptible Sicily more so than other regions. I’ve never felt anything, that is until this summer when the Mt Etna volcano has been erupting. Etna has always been relatively active and is quite far away from us towards Catania.

 

In the past we’ve breathed in its ash over as few weeks but it seems to be very angry lately. We’ve been having a series of tremors since the beginning of summer but I didn’t feel anything until one night at around midnight as I was nodding off to sleep I felt a few seconds of pure fear.

 

The sound of it was what hit me the most; it was like a massive explosion, I thought the old abandoned house across the street had collapsed but then the movement of an 8 on the Richter scale earthquake hit.

 

It was like a bad disaster movie, every thing just shook and rocked and I couldn’t even moved, then within a flash it was over. We all ran outside, but there was no more movement. I was all over.

 

Those maybe 4 seconds were enough to make me a nervous wreck for the rest of the week when every little sound or movement made me jump out of my skin.

 

 Losing control of your movement and your surroundings I think if the most disempowering thing that can ever happen. In short it scared the s*** out of me!

 

My heart goes out to those poor people in the USA who experienced an earthquake just the other week, especially those in NY who justifiably thought the worst after the memories of S11 jumped back into the foreground. And then right after they had Hurricane Irene … talk about fodder for doomsday theorists!!

 

The earth’s motions here in Sicily have been justified by spectacular fireworks from Etna, with lava being thrown up several hundred meters in the air. One night I was even rewarded by a single Etna explosion which lit up the horizon for a few seconds like a red hot aurora borealis.

 

There’s nothing like a spectacular natural phenomenon to instil a feeling of awe and fear deep inside your soul.

 

Being a writer in Sicily

Ok, I know it’s a bit pithy but I think we are all writers in the way we create our own narratives and lives. The the endless dialogues we have each day, our own internal monologue and interactions are all pieces of writing.

As life progresses it gives us different masks to wear which allows us to create the different parts of our journey: son/daughter, student, sister/brother, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, lover, parent, professional, in-law, grandparent … our roles are endless.

The experiences we choose in life dictate the richness of our own unique narrative. The business of writing as a profession takes the natural ability we all have to a different level documenting and crafting each word on the page, whether it be on the virtual ‘page’ of a computer screen or scribbling in a notebook.

I love new ideas and writing helps me to explore different areas which in turn stimulate other interests and move me into other directions. It’s an addiction which gives me an appetite to understand this world. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of asking questions.

Sicily has become an extensive part of my story, it is a piece of my family’s history and speaks to me so eloquently.

Randazzo side streets, Catania

Moving to Sicily has been a challenge and I struggle everyday with the culture shock, but realistically it is a fantastic place to be a writer. Stories literally come up to you and introduce themselves, others slap you in the face or make friends with you doing a casual conversation. The slower paced life is conducive to reflection and the writerly life sits well with this place. In fact the island has produced many famous writers, who are an inspiration to me. Pirandello, Verga, De Roberto, Brancanti and Quasimodo are my favourites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you writing with your life?